Northern Ireland Open to feature 15 of world's top 16

Mark Williams

Leading stars including Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams, Mark Selby, John Higgins, Judd Trump and local favourite Mark Allen will compete in next month’s Northern Ireland Open.

The world ranking event at the Belfast Waterfront from 12 to 18 November boasts a field of 128 and will include 15 of the world’s top 16 players.

The winner will collect £70,000 and the Alex Higgins Trophy.

World champion Mark Williams beat Yan Bingtao 9-8 in last year’s final.

For Welshman Williams it was his first ranking tournament success in six years and he then went on to win his third World Championship at the Crucible Theatre in May.

The NI Open represents the second of the season’s Home Nations series, following on from last week’s English Open won by former world champion Stuart Bingham.

If Bingham can go on to win the tournaments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales he would scoop a £1m bonus for completing a clean sweep.

Allen and Williams will be among the players in action on the opening day, with the defending champion starting against Alfie Burden.

O’Sullivan, Selby and Trump play their first-round matches on Tuesday.

Mark Allen has struggled to produce his best form at the NI Open

Much attention will again focus on Antrim’s Allen, the world number 12, who enjoyed the best moment of his career earlier this year when he won the Masters, one of snooker’s elite Triple Crown tournaments.

He beat England’s Kyren Wilson in the final in January.

In the past the 32-year-old has struggled to produce his best form in the Northern Ireland Open, losing in the quarter-finals in 2016 and the last 64 in 2017.

“People from Northern Ireland support their own so I would love to give them something to cheer about,” said Allen.

“I feel as if I’m playing well, my game is in good shape. I have to keep practising hard and wait for the results.

“In the past I have put too much pressure on myself to do well there in front of my home crowd.

“This will be the third year for the event so hopefully I have got used to that feeling and I can cope with it a bit better this time.

“It would be a great time for my game to come together.”

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